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Archive for May, 2017

17th century English author, Dr Henry Stubbe, writes in defence of Islam

Saturday, May 6th, 2017

In a recent issue of Paigham Sulh, the Lahore Ahmadiyya Urdu organ, for March 2017, an article has been reproduced from the same paper of a hundred years ago (Paigham Sulh, 17 January 1917) about a writing of an Englishman, around the years 1670s, which is possibly the earliest defence of Islam penned in the West. The 1917 article itself appears to be taken from some other publication.

The name of the Englishman was not easy to identify due to being transcribed in Urdu, and appears as "Dr Henry Astab". After pondering for a while, I realized that the "A" could be the addition in Urdu to an English word, since English words beginning with the letter "s" are prefixed with an "alif" when spelt in Urdu. For example, the word "school" becomes "eskool" in Urdu. I have even heard Urdu speakers say they are suffering from "estress" when they mean they are under "stress".

Anyhow, after realizing the redundancy of the "A" of "Astab", I very quickly through a Google search identified the name as Dr Henry Stubbe, born in 1631. (His name is sometimes given as Stubbs.) The name of the writing is An Account of the Rise and Progress of Mahometanism. I called it as a "writing" rather than "book" because he left it as a manuscript which, after passing through several owners, was published in 1911 by 'The Islamic Society', London. It was edited by one Hafiz Mahmud Khan Shairani (d. 1946), a linguist and poet who was a lecturer at Punjab University Lahore.

You can read this book here (pdf file, 14 MB)

The editor also added an introduction, a brief life of Dr Stubbe and an appendix.

I understand there has been recent further research into the original manuscript. There is a 2014 publication, Henry Stubbe and the beginnings of Islam — The Originall & Progress of Mahometanism, edited by Nabil Matar, Columbia University Press.

(The spelling Originall is not a typo, but the spelling of the 17th century. In the 1911 publication also, in the text of the manuscript you may be puzzled by the 17th century spellings of various words such as: beleive, authentick, publick.)

To show a flavour of the book, I quote below the beginning of the last chapter of the manuscript:

"It is a vulgar Opinion that 'Mahomet propagated his Doctrine by the sword,' and not only compelled the Arabians at first to receive his Religion, but obliged his Successors by a perpetual Vow or Precept to endeavour the Extirpation of Christianity and all other Religions, thereby to render his own universal. But how generally soever this be beleived, and how great men soever they bee who support it, yet is it no other then a palpable Mistake." (p. 180)

In other words, it is commonly held that Muhammad propagated his religion by the sword and taught Muslims to do so as well, and to destroy Christianity and all other religions until only Islam remains. But however prevalent this belief may be, and regardless of the greatness of the men who hold it, it is nothing other than a clear mistake.

— Zahid Aziz